by Miriam Heddy
[Zeno, a Greek philosopher in the Fifth Century B.C., showed that it was impossible to get from one point to another, because one had to pass the midpoint of the line determined by the two original points, and then the midpoint of the remaining distance, down to an infinite number of points. By using accepted truths to "prove" an absurdity about motion, Zeno actually hoped to prove that motion did not exist.]
The voice was too cheerful, and all the large, pale lump under the sheets could manage was a groan and a mumbled curse before capturing the second pillow and putting it firmly over his head.
"Oh, no. Time to get up, you lazy sod."
"Don't." The one word, muffled through the layers of down, was firm.
"Fine, then. Sleep your life away. Won't get your pressies, though."
"Sleep. Want sleep." The voice ceased and the lump shifted and rolled over, letting the pillow fall to the side of the bed. "Clear out. 'm up."
"Rather it were afternoon."
"Such a cheerful boy you are in the mornings."
He ignored the sarcasm and stumbled to the bathroom, finding the toilet in the dark and sighing as he held onto the wall. Too many pints at the pub and all of them wanted out. He moaned as even the flush was too loud and turned to the sink, cleaning his teeth in the dark. Finally, he turned on the light and blinked, stunned and blinded for a second before his eyes adjusted and he got a good look in the mirror and groaned again. "Aw, bloody hell."
"What? Nick yourself shaving again? Told you -- use the electric."
Doyle appeared at the door, but Bodie didn't take his eyes off the hideous creature before him. Puffy eyes, pale face, darkly bristled cheeks. Doyle was reflected in the mirror behind him and Bodie glared at him for looking half-alive and sounding better.
"'m old," he muttered and the mirror-Bodie nodded his agreement.
"Fifty. Not so old."
"Look old." He shuddered.
Doyle shrugged. "Shouldn't've drunk so much last night. Can't hold it anymore. Told you that."
"'m middle-aged, Ray." He said it with some surprise, as if he was suddenly now feeling it.
Doyle grinned. "Come off it. You've been middle-aged for ten years now, Bodie."
"Forty's middle-aged. Assuming you make it till eighty. Looks doubtful right now, dunnit?"
Bodie grinned, despite himself. He turned around, holding onto the sink edge for balance. "And there's some reason I love you?"
"Dunno. Is there?"
"Yeh." He looked at the man leaning in the doorway, fifty-three and looking it, but also still looking like the same old young Ray Doyle. Wide eyes still wide. Hair gone grey now all over but still curly, since Bodie had drawn the line the one time he'd cut it all off. Still a good body, strong and fit for a man his age, but not skinny anymore. The broken cheekbone sometimes almost invisible now that he'd softened a bit, making him look more genial than the old viper actually was. Temperament not softened a bit, though the body had. No -- gone was the young tease who used to prance around in tight jeans. The jeans weren't so tight now and Bodie felt a pang of sadness at that. Not that he ever liked to wear 'em that way himself, but watching Doyle scurrying over fences in those things .... He shook his head and went back to pondering the horror in the mirror. "'cos you're going to make me breakfast."
"Make your own."
"Aw, 'm the birthday boy. The old man needs a bit of coddling, doesn't he?
"'m older than you."
"Ah, but like you say, you're fitter'n me. B'sides, I'm going back to bed."
"Lazy bastard. 'm not cooking while you lie about. Get dressed and get downstairs. There'll be no brekkies in bed, son."
But Doyle was already jogging down the stairs.
By the time Bodie had dressed and made it down the stairs, at a pace considerably slower than his too-chipper partner, Ray had already set eggs and potatoes on. Bodie longed for some sausage or steak, but even on his birthday, Ray gave no indulgence to his petty desires. Vegetarian. Not fit for man nor beast, that was. But could he convince Ray of that? The man ignored all his best arguments, and now they were living on things the birds left behind. And he was not talking about women. Even they ate better'n him nowadays.
Still, he tried. "I smell sausages?"
"No. Eggs and potatoes. You want anything else, go out and pay for it."
He sighed. "S'alright. Smells great. Four eggs?"
Now it was Doyle's turn to sigh. "Between the two of us, yes. Want any more, an' --"
"I can cook 'em myself. Yeh, yeh. Got it."
"For your own good, Bodie."
"Hmph." was all he would say to that. He wasn't at all sure it was worth it to live to eighty.
"Head off your plate, sunshine."
He lifted his head off the table, pushing the plate back where it belonged, and inhaled deeply, looking at the bit of sunshine sitting next to the fried potatoes. The eggs were scrambled and fluffy, and there were surely more than two on the plate. He tasted a bite and almost swooned with joy. "Cream?"
"Wha'?" Doyle asked from around a mouthful of eggs.
"Cream and butter. You cooked 'em in butter?"
"'s your birthday," Doyle sounded grudging, irritable, but there was a hint of affection there, buried so far you'd need to know him well to hear it at all.
Doyle didn't answer and Bodie didn't look up again from his egg till Doyle refilled his coffee cup. "Don't like being old, Ray."
"You on that again?"
"Not a bit. Didn't think I would, watchin' the Cow all those years."
"God, but he did seem old then, didn't he?" Doyle smiled and got the faraway look he got when reminiscing on the brighter times, a time when they were not pressing numb fingers to keypad and doing the administrative work they'd both sworn they'd never do. Retire first, they'd said. And now Doyle was CI5's controller, and Bodie was administering the training program. Even inflicting pain on the young lads wasn't enough to take the sting out of not being able to climb the fences fast enough anymore. And Cowley had managed for years with a game leg. A miracle, that was.
Bodie cleared his throat to get Doyle's attention away from the faraway and back to the problem at hand. Which was, as it often was, his own suffering. "Probably couldn't even pull a bird now."
"What?" Doyle's attention snapped back and he looked puzzled, wide eyes growing wider. "What?!"
"Just saying that I don't think I could pick one up anymore. Not that I --"
"Bodie, if this goes any farther than speculation, I swear I'll have your balls for it."
Bodie shrugged, nonplussed by Doyle's suspicious glare. "Nothin' wrong with speculating. Just speculation. Wouldn't know for sure 'less I tried, would I? But I probably couldn't. Too old. Too fat. Not the great beauty I once was."
"Lost your modesty as well, 'ave you?"
Bodie grinned but said nothing, the grin quickly fading into that speculative look.
"Bodie mate, if you're waiting for me to tell you that you're beautiful, you'll go blue."
"Blue-balls, you mean, don't you Ray?"
Ray sputtered a second, then found his tongue. "What's that about?"
"Nothing." Bodie went back to looking at his plate, picking at the last bits of toast crumbs and swirling them into the small but gratifying puddle of grease on the plate.
"Ah. I know what it is. You feeling unwanted?"
"Maybe." Bodie looked disinterested.
"Maybe." Doyle snorted. "And when was the last time you impressed me with a recitation of me charms?"
"Recitation of --? Taken up reading the dictionary, Ray? Becomes you. Do that and one day, maybe they'll reward you with a good job at the top, eh?"
"Got a good job. 's not the point."
"And the point is?"
"Nothin'. Just don't start griping at me about the job. Not at home, any road."
"Not griping. Just ... hate it. Don't you hate it Ray?" It was a well-worn complaint, but worth repeating, despite Ray's apparent disinterest.
"Sittin' behind a desk and just. . . dunno. Waitin' to die."
Doyle laughed a touch bitterly, getting up to clear the dishes. "Going out there for the Cow was waitin' to die. Not a long wait, either. Came too close, Bodie, too many times. Too close to want it back. You want to die sooner than later?"
Bodie didn't answer.
"Well, I don't. Got too much to live for, I have."
"You, for one."
"You live for me?" Bodie was touched, but a bit hesitant, as if he thought maybe there was a joke in there somewhere. Ray's wit had got more complex with the years, and he sometimes couldn't tell what would strike Ray funny.
"Yeh, well," Doyle shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed, "somebody's got to cook for you. Now clear off the table and open your pressies."
Bodie got up and walked to the living room, checking out the large pile of wrapped boxes on the coffee table. He picked up the biggest one and shook it gently.
"Not that one. The flat one. Open it first."
He put the package down and picked up a large square flat one, noticing that it was wrapped more carefully than the others.
He turned it over, testing the weight of it, listening.
"Open it already or I'll take it back."
By the time he'd pulled the last bit of paper and sellotape off it, Doyle had made himself comfortable on the sofa and was sipping his coffee and watching him carefully.
"Lied. You don't like it, I can't take it back."
"Don't have to. Didn't -- Ray --"
"What?" Doyle sounded defensive as he only did when he thought he was at risk of looking soft. Too many people had told him he was the "sensitive one" for him to take it well. But Bodie didn't care. Raymond Doyle was sensitive. You could see it in his face, in the careful set of his bowed mouth, tense with worry. In the way he had his hands and his legs crossed as if to fend off a blow.
Bodie held the picture frame up to the light, then set it down and walked to the stairs. "Gettin' my glasses, okay?"
He came back down, glasses tipped on his nose. Picking up the picture again, he let out a breath and it came out as a sigh. Doyle was quiet, waiting for him to say something. But he didn't know what to say.
"Yeh, yeh. Like looking in a mirror."
There was a sharpness to Doyle's voice, but looking again at the picture softened its cutting edge. It was a charcoal, and the lines were rough and strong. And anybody who knew him would recognise the subject was Bodie himself. Nude. Bodie tipped his head to one side and looked at Doyle over the top of the frame, comparing Ray's stoic face with the image the man had wrought. It really was beautiful. It made him look beautiful. Not young; it was him, now, looking better than he had this morning.
It had been sketched out of memory, he would have guessed. The eyebrows were sketched in to give the face an amused expression that somehow didn't seem out of place even though there wasn't anything in the picture to look amused about. Maybe he'd been having a good thought, and Ray had caught it. He shook his head and laughed. Definitely the face of a creampuff. And the body of a man who ate them. But strong. Sure. There was no trace of mockery in the image. Only love, humour, and the keen observation of someone who'd spent too many hours looking at him to be taken in by any of it.
He cleared his throat, which had gone tight. "Thanks."
"'s okay then?"
"Yeh. Perfect. I wish I could draw."
"Don't need more than one 'artist' in the family, do we." And Bodie felt his throat go a little tighter at the self-mocking way Ray said "artist", as if he really didn't know he was one. And at the way he said family, casually. Twenty years of it, and Bodie still felt awkward in it, still chafed against it when he thought about it. There'd never been any grand declarations. Never any statement of intentions. He'd never signed anything, the way he had for every other commitment. No, this crept up and just suddenly was.
He looked again at the thick lines that defined his torso and the way Ray made him look taller, even though he was reclining on a chair. He should have looked ridiculous in that position. People didn't sit that way naked. He didn't, any road. Didn't do much of anything naked except sleeping and fucking, and Ray knew that. So why pose him like this?
"How come I'm sitting? This some secret fantasy of yours?"
Ray shrugged and looked out the window, avoiding looking at him and making it impossible for Bodie to see his face. "Just thought it would work."
"Hmm. It does."
"Going to open the rest?"
"Hmm? Oh. Yeh." There were other presents to open. And he opened them, making happy noises at the rest. And they were perfect presents. Ray knew just what he needed. He couldn't very well not know, as Bodie knew he spent enough time whinging on about it. A new bathrobe to replace the one that was getting tatty. A photo album because he'd filled up the last. A briefcase, even though he'd asked for a sport duffle-bag, because Ray knew that he needed a briefcase and had been putting off buying one for himself. It was just so ... corporate. He'd never thought he'd be that kind of professional. Not in a million years.
Finally, the floor was littered with paper, and Ray got up and scooped it up, rolling it into a rough ball. Bodie looked up, startled, when the paper came whizzing at him. He caught it, barely, before it hit him in the face.
"Reflexes still pretty good for an old man."
"Nothing less than perfection, sunshine."
Ray smiled at him and walked past him, grabbing the paper on the way and tossing it in the bin. "What now?" he called over his shoulder, turning on the dishwasher and putting on the electric kettle.
"Now," Bodie started, setting the picture down carefully on the table and walking to stand behind Ray at the kitchen counter, getting in his way as he set out the cups and saucers, "Now I will begin my recitation of your charms."
"Your many charms," he said, softly, pushing forward until he stood close against Ray, his excitement growing still. The picture had moved him, yeh, but it had also turned him on. Ray always said he liked to look at himself far more than anyone else, which wasn't true. The picture turned him on because when he looked at it, he didn't see himself. He saw Ray, as he must have looked, bent over the page, fingers skimming across the sheet of paper, brow furrowed in concentration. Ray, fingertips covered with charcoal that he always smudged over his face as he sketched, until he was black with it like some sooty child playing by the tracks. And sometimes he'd look up from his drawing and then he looked like a sooty child on the wrong side of the tracks, wicked, dangerous, and very, very tough.
Bodie wished Ray were drawing now, wanted Ray's hands on him, wanted to watch charcoal fingerprints tracked across his body, wanted suddenly to be the paper that Ray bent over with such interest. Ray never looked at him the way he looked at his sketchbook, and he was sometimes jealous of it. But more pictures than not were of him, those that weren't landscapes. Ray hardly ever did figures, and it was a shame, because he was very good, at least to Bodie's untrained eye.
"Bodie," Ray said his name on an exhalation, almost as a sigh. He answered, pressing forward again until Ray was trapped against the sink, and lifted his hands up and wrapped them round Ray's arms, bringing them together to rest on Ray's chest, feeling the heart beating there. So fast. But steady, like Ray himself. Changing but constant, somehow, even without a declaration. Had been from the beginning, really, except he hadn't noticed. Not right away. Not until it was almost too late, when Ann Holly nearly took Ray away. Things could have changed then, but it was his luck that they hadn't, and Ray had come back to him, a little worse for wear, but still Ray, playing it tough, like he was untouchable.
Bodie moved his hands across that chest, feeling the muscles there, pressing deeper to skim ribs bruised many times over. He ran his hands down so that they rested on Ray's belly and used his thumbs to press across Ray's nipples, feeling them peak under the soft cotton shirt. He stopped then and waited.
"Bo-die!" Ray was hoarse, demanding.
"You want something, Raymond?"
Ray chuffed a soft laugh and Bodie felt it under his hands. "Charms. You were going to recite --"
"Don't have words."
"Words?" Bodie's fingers were still roaming, skimming down to the bottom of Ray's shirt and sliding under to pull it up.
"Don't have words like your charcoal. Can't show you what you look like."
"Try." Demanding, still. Always in control, his Ray, even in bed. And most especially in the kitchen.
"Upstairs." Bodie answered, pulling Ray to him, turning him towards the stairs, then following him up, letting go of him so he could watch his back, taking great pleasure in the soft sway of Ray ascending the stairs. Not so old, really. Old men didn't walk like that, with a cant to the hips that made the arse sway slightly. Ray paused on the top stair and Bodie reached up to cup that arse, sliding his hands round it, relishing the familiarity of it, the way it fit into his hands without effort. Both of them were taking it slow now, making it last, because it was only going to happen once this morning, and it was going to be good.
"Now. Bedroom." Bodie whispered, one hand still on Ray's arse, tracing the denim pocket and the seam that separated the cheeks he longed to separate with his hands. He stroked along the seam, smiling as it drew a shudder from Ray, marvelling at how tense his broad shoulders were, tensed and waiting. Like a cat who was docile and pliant now, but who could snap at you at any moment.
At the bedroom, Ray turned and hesitated at the door, forcing Bodie to step in first. Bodie stopped himself at the edge of the bed and asked, "How do you want me?"
Ray stared at him, eyes intense and shadowed by the light filtering through the half-closed blinds. Bodie admired the way the light and shadows cut across Ray, striping him, making him look more dangerous, even. "Sit down. On the bed."
"Like the picture? That it, Ray?"
Ray nodded and Bodie didn't sit down, knowing he had to strip first, finding it harder to do than usual because of the way Ray was looking at him, as if he didn't know what he would see. As if they hadn't done this so many times it should be routine, boring even. But Ray stood there, leaning against the doorway, hips canted out and arms crossed, looking and waiting, and Bodie reached down and pulled his shirt over his head, tossing it down on the floor. He unbuckled his belt and slid it out, startled when the cold metal buckle touched his exposed skin. He looked at Ray and saw the slight nod that meant "continue", and he did, unbuttoning and unzipping his slacks, sliding them down and stepping out of them. He was wearing boxers now, had been for the last couple of years since the fashions changed again, and the crisp cotton made a soft sound as it caught on the hair of his legs. He stood there, naked, and waited.
"You'll do." Ray grinned broadly, showing his teeth.
The tension in the room seemed to lift as Ray quickly undressed, foregoing the slow striptease for efficiency, and Bodie gasped when he saw Ray's erection. Something had got him going, though Bodie wasn't sure what.
He sat down on the bed, remembering, assuming the pose from the picture. One hand behind him, the other resting on his leg, fingers just inches from his own cock.
Ray walked towards the bed, stepping into a strip of light and, for a moment, glowing with it, gold body and silver hair making him unreal, unfamiliar, and stunning.
"This is what I'd draw, if I could."
"You. Like that."
Doyle had stopped moving, had frozen in the light. "Like what?"
"Words'll fail me."
"C'mon, mate. You've got an encyclopaedia in that head of yours. Like what? Tell me what you see." It was an order, delivered with the cajoling, challenging tone Ray used with his lads, but rarely with Bodie. It put the tension back into the room to realise what Ray was doing, that it was his show still. Maybe it always was.
"All my best words are borrowed, Ray. Besides, there're no words for you, love."
"Recite them. I want to hear them. Words, Bodie."
Why did Ray push like this? Wasn't it enough that he was still here twenty years later? That they both were? That he hadn't let himself be stupid enough to wreck it the night Ray got drunk and told him he was not nearly as beautiful as he thought he was. Ray'd made it sound like a line you used with birds, and the line worked, somehow. All vague now, all hazy like memories are, and he doubted that was exactly how it had really happened. Ray would probably say he'd brought it on himself by peering into the shop windows to check his hair and suit before hitting the pub. Then after, except then he'd been looking at the two of them, at the way Ray walked so close next to him, like he belonged there. So fucking beautiful, he was.
Is. Standing there in that spot of light, then moving out of it into darkness, so Bodie could still see him in shadows and blurry edges. He sat up straighter, breaking his pose and holding out his hands so that Ray would move closer, so he could touch him. "Like Pan, you are. Like something I made up."
"Like something I dreamed."
"Sleep too much. Eat too much before sleeping. Gives nightmares."
"Like a fantasy. And I might wake up and you'll be gone."
"Can't get rid of me that easily, Bodie. You do know that." Ray was standing before him now, reaching down and stroking the top of his head but not looking at him. Stroking his hair, now grey also except that he gave in to vanity and coloured it, putting up with Ray's taunts with fairly good humour.
Ray looked at him then, and put his hands on Bodie's shoulders, pressing him down onto the mattress and climbing on top of him. It was awkward, and Bodie moved them both up onto the bed, Ray shimmying up his body, hot and soft and damp with sweat. He groaned and Ray leaned in to kiss him, taking his mouth hard, stealing away his breath as if he were unsatisfied with Bodie's words, wanting the very air from his lungs. Then Ray lowered himself fully onto Bodie, settling in comfortably, using Bodie for support and leverage and sliding up and down, humping his body selfishly. All the things Bodie might have said fled from him then, as Ray found his mark, their cocks coming into alignment in an old pattern of theirs, the sex so familiar it was easy, but it was like the man said, if it ain't broke --
Bodie stroked the curve of Ray's spine, hands settling at the lowest point of it, sliding his fingers delicately into the cleft of Ray's arse and teasing until he felt it rise to meet his hand, and he sighed as his hips pulled away. He pressed his hand down, forcing Ray's hips against him again, grabbing them roughly and steadying him until he resumed that pattern again, up down up down, the slick slide of sweat and pre-come not enough to eliminate the near-painful pleasure of friction, of their skin sticking together and pulling apart. Ray bent his head and said his name, and Bodie felt the wet rasp of tongue against his lips. He parted them, letting Ray in.
And then it was over, both of them coming, himself first as Ray shifted slightly, pressing more of his not-insubstantial weight down on Bodie, the movement just what he needed to come, while knocking the air out of him at the same time. He lay panting with pleasure as Ray broke the kiss and groaned, low in his throat, almost a growl. And then he had to rollover and free himself, forcing Ray onto his back and hovering above him.
"How -- was -- that?" Ray gasped, face flushed and damp.
"Charming," Bodie replied, getting his wind back and grinning. Self satisfied. Satisfied in all ways.
"Beautiful, Bodie. It was. Always is," Ray corrected, reaching up and tracing his face with artist's hands, as if memorising it, tickling at his hairline, his eyebrows, the long broken line of his nose. But it hadn't changed, not that much. He could see it in the picture, that Ray was still looking at him as a lad of thirty would, still naive enough to believe in beauty, not understanding that it was fragile as a piece of charcoal, crumbling into dust if you pressed too hard.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Living Pros, Bovinity Press, 1999